And there came one that had escaped, and told Abram the Hebrew–now he dwelt by the terebinths of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol, and brother of Aner; and these were confederate with Abram. (Genesis 14:13)
וַיָּבֹא֙ הַפָּלִ֔יט וַיַּגֵּ֖ד לְאַבְרָ֣ם הָֽעִבְרִ֑י וְהוּא֩ שֹׁכֵ֨ן בְּאֵֽלֹנֵ֜י מַמְרֵ֣א הָֽאֱמֹרִ֗י אֲחִ֤י אֶשְׁכֹּל֙ וַֽאֲחִ֣י עָנֵ֔ר וְהֵ֖ם בַּֽעֲלֵ֥י בְרִֽית־אַבְרָֽם: (בראשית יד:יג)
فَهَرَبَ أحَدُهُمْ وَجاءَ إلَى إبْراهِيمَ العِبْرانِيِّ وَأخْبَرَهُ بِما جَرَى. وَكانَ أبْرامُ ساكِناً قُرْبَ بَلُّوطاتِ مَمْرا الأمُورِيِّ، أخِي أشْكُولَ وَعانِرَ. وَكانَ هَؤُلاءِ مُرْتَبِطِينَ بِعَهْدٍ مَعَ أبْرامَ) سفر التكوين 14:13(
* * *
The goal of this Position Paper is to present a model called Abrahamic Federalism that will provide a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Our aim is to show that this paradigm provides a model for a workable political structure and a unifying symbol to bring all sides together in the Land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, what is known alternatively as Israel and Palestine; or simply, the “Holy Land.”
What we mean by Abrahamic Federalism is a confederate organization of two (or more) states under one umbrella (or “tent”, if you will), utilizing the Biblical and Qur’anic figure of Abraham/Avraham/Ibrahim as a unifying political symbol.
One of the flaws of what is known as the “Two State Solution” is that it attempts to artificially divide the historic land of Israel/Palestine into two, with the hope that each side will be satisfied with the part that it receives. Instead of learning how to live *with* each other, with good neighborly relations, it proposes a divorce. It perpetuates the idea that each side will be able to make the other disappear. The trauma that will result as a consequence of partition is often not taken into consideration.
Rather than a divorce, we propose that this is an inheritance dispute. The goal is to distribute the patrimony equitably. Rather than Two States or One State, we propose Two States IN One State; a Jewish state of Israel and an Arab state of Palestine in confederation with one another. We must recognize that we have a shared future together.
Furthermore, it is our contention that because this is the Holy Land, it is irresponsible to attempt a solution without taking into account religious sentiments on all sides, each on its own terms. The three great Abrahamic traditions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, have strong ties to this land. Some would argue that religion is a potential source of conflict and that is why it best be avoided. We argue the opposite: it is only by taking the best of the great faiths into account, and finding common ground that we will truly find a lasting peace.
This paper will be divided into two parts. The first part wlll focus on the political structure of a confederation and other lands where this model is used. The second part will discuss why shared symbolism is important and why Abraham/Avraham/Ibrahim is the right unifying symbol.
False dichotomy of Two States vs. One State
Many people often present the models for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a choice between two separate states, (one Jewish, one Palestinian) or one unified state that makes no distinction between nationalities. But creative thinking will show us that there are other models that we can pursue.
Most people are familiar with the United States and the European Union. The US has a strong Federal government and each of the 50 states is subordinate to the Federal constitution. The EU has a weaker federal government. It allows for more sovereignty among its member nations. France and Germany are independent nations, but by treaties they work together.
In the US, each state has its own flag, its own constitution, its own laws, its own courts, its own police forces. But there are also metropolitan areas in states such as New York and New Jersey, or Maryland, Virginia and Washington, DC (MD/VA/DC), where the different states must work together, for example on matters of transportation or utilities. The Port Authority of NY/NJ manages the border crossings of the two states. In Maryland, Virginia and DC, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) manages the transportation systems of the region. Each state is independent to some extent, but the states work together where necessary.
In the EU, the union is less strong, but the opening of national borders has made travel and commerce between the countries easier and simpler. It should be noted that just 70 years ago, the nations of Europe were in the bloodiest war in human history. Yet today, England, France and Germany are allies. It is not impossible to conceive of a different future where Palestinians and Israelis could see each other as partners rather than as rivals.
To go back to the examples of MD/VA/DC, Maryland and Virginia were once on opposite sides of the bloody US civil war. Today, that is just history.
We can also even look to Washington, DC as a potential model for resolving the thorny question of Jerusalem. It is possible to have a city that belongs to both peoples and is independent at the same time. Perhaps the west part of Jerusalem would be Israeli, the eastern part would be Palestinian, and the “Holy Basin” of the Old City and the Mount of Olives could be under joint control.
The goal here is not to solve the details of every problem, but to provide a paradigm and framework through which we can work on resolving these issues together, rather than through armed conflict.
Symbols are powerful. People are willing to die for a piece of cloth at the end of a stick. Nowhere is symbolism more important than in the Middle East.
For many Jews, the symbol of a Jewish star on a white field with two blue stripes, reminiscent of the stripes of the tallit (prayer shawl), creates a feeling of almost romantic nationalism that inspires the people to connect to a renewed Jewish independence in its ancient homeland. It is hard to overstate the political significance of the Israeli flag and the seal of the State, which is an image of the Menorah (candelabra) that stood in the ancient Jewish temples. A state whose calendar revolves around the Jewish holidays and whose revived Hebrew language is at its core, is a state whose symbols generate great inspiration.
Likewise, for Palestinians, the national flag of black, white, green and red, derived from the flag of the Arab revolt of 1916, inspires unity among an Arab people with a fierce identification with the homeland from which they have grown and for many, where they have been exiled from. The Palestinian Arabic language is the natural outgrowth of a people, with its own set of cultures and national pride.
These two nationalismד are in competition over the same piece of land that they have been fighting over for the last century. Is there any way forward?
We believe that there is. Israel/Palestine is the Holy Land, the land where the three great Abrahamic traditions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, have deep roots and ties. Many Westerners believe that religion is only a source for conflict. We argue otherwise.
There is a solution: the Abrahamic Solution.
Abraham plays a very significant role in the geneses of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Judaism views Abraham as its ancient Patriarch, to whose progeny was promised the Land of Canaan. Christianity views Abraham as a precursor of Judaism, at a time when he was preaching to the Gentiles of the world. Islam views Muhammad as restoring the ancient faith in the God of Ibrahim among the descendants of of his son, Ismail, and like Christians, one who preached the faith of the One God to the peoples of the world.
The beauty of the “Abrahamic Solution” is that it is fully “Orthodox” according to each faith. All believe that Abraham is/was the “Father of Many Nations”. Judaism does not believe that it has the sole path to God. Christians and Muslims each see Abraham as the ancestor of the Jews, but also the religious “Father” of all the great faiths. There is thus room in each for the other.
Furthermore, Abraham in the Bible and in the Qur’an is a man devoted to the utmost of loving-kindness to all, non-believers included. Abraham even prays for the wicked people of Sodom. In the Bible, he challenges God – “will the Judge of all the Earth not act with Justice?” Abraham is the religious model to whom all the great religions look up to.
Many Westerners and secularists may be turned off by a religious, symbolic figure. First, it must again be emphasized that this is the Holy Land. It is absurd to not take religion into account in resolving the conflict. Furthermore, as was seen in the American Civil Rights movement, religion played a key role in bringing unity to people and inspiration that all humanity is created in the image of God and has liberty and justice as human rights.
If it would actually achieve peace, would secularists still oppose it? There is no religious coercion in utilizing a spiritual figure as a unifying political symbol. Many lands have places named after great “heroes”: Alexandria for Alexander the Great; Romulus for Rome; Washington, DC for both Washington and Christopher Columbus. Abraham as a unifying figure is hiding in plain sight.
Let us also address two more matters. As Abraham is the father of the Jewish people whose Covenant with God is ultimately what connects the People of Israel to the Land of Israel, he is the symbolic marker for why Jews have roots in the Land.
Second, it is commonly stated among Islamist groups that “Islam is the Solution”. If we replace that slogan with “Abraham is the Solution” it will bring forth an ecumenical Islam that Christianity and Judaism can join hands with. The spiritual power of 3 billion people being inspired by peace in the Holy Land and joint spiritual activities, has the potential not only to change things in this region, but perhaps even in the entire world.
Abrahamic Federalism has the potential to be a key that unlocks what may seem to be an intractable problem. It provides a political structure and a political/spiritual symbol that the peoples who dwell in the Holy Land can unite around. What it requires is a paradigm shift to see that a solution is possible. It provides a framework through which all other specific problems can be addressed.
The main question that remains is this: Are we willing to see things differently than we do now?